Tim Mondavi’s eyes betray almost everything in their expressiveness; probably more than he realizes.
One moment, when recalling some memory or detail of spearheading the development of Opus One, they might be bright, almost dancing, even though his demeanor is serious and workmanlike – as if there’s something fond and comforting about revisiting the time for him. The next, they’re sharp and piercing despite his relaxed posture and polite phrases (in this case, when I mentioned someone in the CA wine industry with whom I suspect Tim doesn’t see eye-to-eye).
Occasionally eyes, words, and demeanor align like stars in a constellation: for instance, when Tim recounts – using a rather damn good Godfather impersonation – his frustration in once having to hold up a large canvas over a series of days in Mondavi’s famed To Kalon vineyard so that his daughter, Chiara, could finish painting the image (titled “Light of the vine”) that would grace the label for his budding high-end red wine project, Continuum.
I spent the better part of five hours picking Tim Mondavi’s brain on a sunny day in late February, when visiting Continuum’s Pritchard Hill estate as a lunch guest; as far as Tim knew, I was coming to get a taste of the 2008 vintage of a wine brand that I’ve already publicly praised as being well-worth seeking out even if it is pricey. But as far as I was concerned, class was in session, the topic was the history of Napa winemaking, and I was the student. I just had to convince Tim – who has been around since the earliest days of the development of Napa’s modern fine wine industry – to start teaching. Not easy – but turns out it was well worth the effort.
Lesson one: the only living things in the Valley with more wine-related history than the Mondavis probably have wood for arms and grapes for children; that history doesn’t guarantee great wine, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt your chances any.
Sunny days on Pritchard Hill, in Napa’s eastern ridge, provide for a glorious view (Oakville and Lake Hennessey are a stone’s throw away, and on a good day you can pick out buildings in downtown San Francisco), so we took to a 4×4 and toured the forty-odd acres of Continuum’s vineyard plantings, on land that once belonged to a former marine biologist. Stopped for a moment at a spot that overlooks the estate’s farmhouse, Tim recalled how his father reacted to the site.
“In 2008, just before my father left for the great vineyard in the sky, we took him up here to see the vineyard, right before we purchased it,” he said, pointing directly to the spot where he helped an ailing Robert Mondavi take in the view. “He was in a wheelchair by then, and he couldn’t talk much. But when he saw this vineyard, his eyes lit up.”
That explains the eyes, right?…
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Vintank is a wine and tech industry think tank group based in downtown Napa, full of folks for whom I hold a great deal of respect (so much so that when they asked me to partner with them on trying out the concept of using badges for wine reviews, I jumped at the chance).
As think tanks do, they periodically release reports on the industry, for the most part in Vintank’s case concentrating on the intersections of wine and technology (predominantly on-line and social media tech). Their latest report, titled To-And-Fro, was recently released and provides synopses of their 2010 work and the major developments in the on-line wine world over the last year. Most interestingly, however, is that To-And-Fro also makes some bold predictions about what we’ll see in 2011 in the culminations of wine and tech. If you’re interested in the wine biz, it’s well worth a read (and the 150+ slides in this deck go by quickly), and you’ll find it embedded below after the jump.
But I should note that I had a strange, nagging ennui when reading To-And-Fro. It’s not that I think the predictions espoused in the report are incorrect (I agree with nearly all of them), it’s just that I can’t shake the feeling that the report is too optimistic. If To-And-Fro has a flaw, it’s its pesky optimism: it seems to assume that the wine biz operates rationally and does so at the speed of normal businesses that have an on-line component – neither of which I’ve found to be true…
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